Perhaps like no other item, face masks have come to be the universal symbol of this global pandemic we are somehow still in. Many are looking forward to the day when they will finally be able to rip them off for good – but what if we just kept them?

Thinking back to the start of the pandemic, I almost feel like a grandpa reminiscing about tales from his long-lost youth while sitting next to a fireside.

But when I do that, one of the many things that comes to mind is the initial scepticism a lot of people in our western countries had against the use of face masks. Even renowned scientific bodies, such as Germany's Robert Koch Institute, stated on several occasions during the first few months that masking up would not really do anything against the spread of this novel coronavirus.

Fast forward almost two years and there is no longer any doubt that wearing masks has been one of the most effective measures in the fight against the pandemic. We could look at this issue from a post-colonial perspective and discuss how a residual arrogance from past imperial ambitions still very much engrained in our societies most likely played a part in this early scepticism against a measure that was already widely accepted in many Asian countries at the time – but, for this article, I wanted to share a bit more of a personal opinion.

Masks: The official logo of the Covid-19 pandemic

The pandemic is somewhat of an abstract concept and, as we have seen with some politicians and certain shouty people in the streets, getting angry at a virus is not really of any use.

Masks, on the other hand, are very tangible and the numerous pictograms illustrating the obligation to wear them have become somewhat of a "symbol" for the pandemic.

In fact, masks are seen as so intrinsically linked to the pandemic that for many, the day we are no longer obligated to wear them is seen as a "freedom day" – which some countries seem to have celebrated a bit early, to put it lightly…

And in many ways, I understand that feeling. Not only have masks become the physical stand-in for everything this invisible virus has put us through, but by obstructing large parts of our faces, they have had a substantial impact on our social interactions.

Some say that they miss seeing people smile – although to those folks, I put the question: Where do you live that people are smiling all the time? Certainly not Luxembourg, that's for sure… The one group of people that I really feel for, however, includes those of us that rely on sign language to communicate.

Facial expressions and, to a certain extent, lip reading are a big part of sign language and masks have undoubtedly made this way of communicating a lot more difficult for an already disadvantaged group.

So, if you are one of those who cannot wait to get rid of your backlog of masks that are bursting out of every nook and cranny of your home: I get it. I really do. But now let me try and explain to you why I think we should keep these little pieces of fabric.

Not without my mask!

It was mainly during the past few weeks that I really noticed how much I appreciate my masks. A while ago, I switched out all of my surgical masks for FFP2 masks (something which you should consider too, if you can, especially with Omicron on the rise) and it has completely changed the mask game for me.

As someone who wears glasses, the surgical masks were always a bit of a hassle. Just one tiny gap that wasn't sealed properly, and I had to live in the eternal fog of my own exhalation for the rest of the day. With the FFP2s, this is no longer a problem, as they provide a tighter fit and don't shift around as much.

Even though Luxembourg does not obligate its residents to wear masks outside, I found myself almost automatically putting on my mask as soon as I stepped outside. In the freezing temperatures we have had recently, there is a certain comfort in putting on an additional face covering, I find.

And getting back to masks affecting our social interactions, I have to say that this experience has actually been mostly positive for me. Masks add an additional layer of privacy that I have personally come to really appreciate. Granted, I am a quite socially awkward and introverted person, so I understand if some of you more outgoing folk don't share that experience. But as far as I am concerned, I have actually felt more comfortable talking to people while wearing masks.

I will concede on one point, however: masks are incredibly annoying to wear in summer. Even I won't pretend otherwise.

So, with that in mind, here is my proposal: If that magical day finally comes, and we are told that the pandemic is considered "over", I am happy for us to ditch the masks in summer. But when autumn and winter roll around, why don't we make it a habit to grab our masks alongside our scarves?

The industrial requirements for mass production have been created. The market is there. And now we all know that masks are incredibly effective at limiting the spread of airborne diseases. Coronavirus aside, do you know what an absolute joy it has been not to catch a cold all winter?

In that sense, let's up our hygiene game permanently and stick to an objectively good habit, even when it will one day no longer be legally mandated. I think we will be better off for it…